USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Women

Want to Change the World? Invest in a Girl

Today, there are 850 million girls in the world.  Want to change the world?  Invest in a girl.  We know that investing in girls is not just the right thing to do, it’s also smart economics.  Girls who are more educated earn more income, have greater access to family health information and services, are more likely to delay early marriage and childbirth, and have healthier babies.  Research shows the benefits of an educated and empowered girl—not only for herself, but her family and community.

For instance, one extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent; an extra year of secondary school by 15 to 25 percent.  These gains can have incredible multiplying affects since women tend to spend more of their income on goods and services that benefit their families.

Yet, girls face many obstacles. 62 million primary school age girls are not in school.  Girls spend more time than boys on unpaid work and care for younger siblings, and that difference is substantial for those who are not enrolled in school.  Also, perhaps no other segment of society globally faces as much exploitation and injustice than girls.

That’s why we’re thrilled that last December, the United Nations General Assembly declared October 11th the International Day of the Girl to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.   Today is an exciting opportunity to educate others about the status of girls and the positive results that can be obtained by investing in them.  At USAID, we’re taking this opportunity to refine our efforts to tackle child marriage and promote secondary education to ensure that girls are not robbed of their human rights and can live to their full potential.

There are more than 60 million child brides worldwide.  Millions of young women around the world are married before the age of 18, one girl in seven in developing countries marries before the age of 15. Many marry against their will and in violation of international laws and conventions on women’s rights.

These young brides often are socially isolated and powerless in the relationship.  They have limited education and economic opportunities, and they are vulnerable to health complications that result from giving birth before their bodies are fully developed. One quarter to one-half of girls in developing countries become mothers before age 18 and complications from early and frequent childbearing is a leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19.

Today, we released Ending Child Marriage and Serving the Needs of Married Youth: The USAID Vision, which focuses on development efforts to combat child marriage in regions, countries, and communities.  We’re focusing on interventions to prevent and respond to child marriage where it’s most needed and most able to achieve results.  We’re also tackling child marriage on-the-ground, where it matters most.  In Bangladesh, we’re working with the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs to support a pilot program to test approaches to address child marriage, particularly efforts that promote community sensitization to this critical issue.

Also, recognizing that education can be the key to unlocking a girl’s potential, USAID and the Presidents’ Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) are working together to ensure thousands of adolescent girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) make successful transitions to secondary school.  Only 11 percent of Congolese women over age 25 have a secondary education; with an emphasis on leadership training this program, Empowering Adolescent Girls to Lead through Education (EAGLE), will seek to raise girls’ enrollment by tackling many of the barriers keeping girls from continuing their post-primary education – including cost and school safety.

Girls should be engaged in society. They should have the opportunity for friendships and mentoring so that they can participate in the decision-making and be prepared to lead.  They should have access to education and health information and services.  Girls should be protected from sexual and other physical and emotional abuse. Their voices should be amplified and their active citizenship encouraged and supported for generations to come.

An investment in girls will pay dividends for generations to come. Let’s all keep that in mind as we celebrate the first-ever International Day of the Girl.

Video of the Week: mWomen Design Challenge

The GSMA mWomen Programme asks ‘What if we designed smartphones with the needs of resource-poor women in mind?’ and encourages innovators around the world to design an Android Launcher to do just that.

Visit the mWomen Design Challenge to learn more.

Ford Foundation Event Celebrates Premieres of Half the Sky and Women and Girls Lead Global

This post was originally featured on Beyond the Box

Amid the hubbub of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in New York City, some 250 distinguished guests crowded the towering atrium of the Ford Foundation on Monday evening, September 24th.  The occasion: to celebrate the impending Independent Lens broadcast of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and mark the official launch of Women and Girls Lead Global, a new three-year, 30-film partnership to put media to work for change in nine countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Moving into the subterranean auditorium, the assembled were welcomed by Ford Foundation Vice President Darren Walker and Corporation for Public Broadcasting President and CEO Patricia Harrison, both of whom spoke passionately about the combined power of storytelling, philanthropy, and change agents to save lives and create a more just and equitable world.  NBC News correspondent Ann Curry took the stage—wearing a dress boldly embossed with the word “LOVE”—to moderate a packed program of rapid-fire panels and film clips, starting with a conversation between U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas, and Nicholas D. Kristof, co-author with Sheryl WuDunn of the best-selling book Half the Sky.

“As journalists, we cover planes that crash,” said Kristof.  “Not planes that take off.”  His comments set the tone for an evening focused on the possibility of progress and success in the face of steep odds, highlighting the State Department’s efforts to integrate gender across all aspects of its work and the Ford Foundation’s focus on solutions in addressing poverty and specific issues like child marriage.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah spoke one-on-one with Curry, making the case for investing in women and girls not only as a moral prerogative but as a evidence-based approach to fighting poverty and strengthening national security.  He was joined by CARE President and CEO Helene Gayle and ITVS President and CEO Sally Fifer, who described the “wave after wave of stories about women and girls” that independent filmmakers, commissioning editors, and ITVS call panelists continued to surface over the last few years—including the four-hour documentary version of Half the Sky.  With Women and Girls Lead Global, Fifer announced, ITVS will now put these stories to work on the ground in countries like Bangladesh, Kenya and Peru over the next three years, collaborating with Ford, USAID, and CARE to connect television broadcasts and engagement to the existing work of NGOs.

Having drawn the big picture of the strategic forces at play in using media for change, the evening turned to the images, sounds, and characters of Half the Sky.  The crowd went still and silent before film clips of American celebrity activist Gabrielle Union, Somaliland hospital founder Edna Adan, and Amie Kandeh, a champion against sexual violence in Sierra Leone. The three featured women then joined Kristof and Curry on-stage, bringing the crowd to a standing ovation with their impassioned testimonies of great hope and strength in the face of evil, death, and misfortune. The first step, said Union, is “You have to give a damn.”  Knowledge is more powerful than advanced equipment, Edan said.

The program concluded with Ford Foundation’s Orlando Bagwell, director of the JustFilms initiative, demonstrating the Half the Sky games and transmedia strategies with Half the Sky filmmaker Maro Chermayeff and Asi Burak of Games for Change.  The featured games included a Half the Sky game for Facebook that marries gameplay with real-world donations to NGOs, along with a suite of mobile games designed for audiences in Africa and Asia focused on health and family planning.

The final word went to Bagwell, who returned the focus to the power of media to inspire change and action.  “This is just the beginning of the conversation,” said Bagwell, before the assembled leaders of NGOs, foundations, and media outlets returned to the Ford atrium to do just that.

Live @ UNGA – Day Three

To see the online conversation at UNGA, visit USAID’s Storify Feed

Day three at UNGA included two marquee events spotlighting progress to date on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.  We also announced a new partnership to expand access to contraception for 27 million women and girls in low-income countries.

With only 15 months until the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) deadline, USAID partnered on an event with the UK Department for International Development for a second year to draw attention to the importance of the global community working together to reach the MDG targets by 2015.  The event brought to life the enormous development advancements made on the way to achieving the MDGs and featured innovators from across the development community sharing transformative programs and policies.  The world has met two MDG targets ahead of the 2015 deadline – poverty has been cut by 50 percent globally and the proportion of people with no safe drinking water has been cut in half.

That afternoon, Administrator Shah co-hosted with other G8 members the New Alliance: Progress and the Way Forward event.  President Obama announced the New Alliance for Food Security & Nutrition earlier this year, in which G8 nations, African partner countries and private sector partners aim to help lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty in the next 10 years by supporting agricultural development. Initially launched in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania, at the event, representatives from the New Alliance, G8 countries and the private sector announced the expansion to other African countries, including Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and Mozambique.

Finally, Administrator Shah took part in the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children. Prior to the meeting, Dr. Shah joined the Commission Co-Chairs, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway and President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, alongside former President Bill Clinton, to launch a new partnership to make a safe, effective, long-acting, reversible method of contraception available to more than 27 million women in the world’s poorest nations. Under the agreement, Bayer is reducing by more than half the current 18 USD price of its long-acting, reversible method of contraception, Jadelle, in return for a commitment to assure funding for at least 27 million contraceptive devices over the next six years.  Dr. Shah stated, “The US Agency for International Development is proud to have funded the development of this life-saving product. Today is a major step forward to making this product more accessible to millions of women, empowering them with the ability to make decisions about their health and family.”

As always, follow us live on Twitter to keep up with the latest developments!

Have a Coke and Some Life-Saving Medicine

Lifesaving medicines are frustratingly unavailable to millions of women and children each year. Frank Naqvi, Photoshare

When was the last time you heard a woman say, “I went to the hospital to have my baby, but they sent me to the drug shop down the street to buy supplies?” Or a health worker say, “I knew what medicine my patient needed, but I haven’t had that medicine for months?”

If you live in the U.S. or any other developed country, you’ve probably never heard this, or would think this woman and health worker were joking. But for women, families, and providers in developing countries, these stories and others are all too common…and it’s definitely not a joke.  As my colleague, Mary Ellen Stanton, eloquently captures in her post earlier this week on Saving Mothers, Giving Life, lifesaving medicines are frustratingly unavailable to millions of women and children each year.  It is unimaginable that simple and affordable medicines could save millions of lives, yet are still so far out of reach for millions.

The medicine oxytocin is needed to prevent and treat severe bleeding after childbirth. Oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc are needed to prevent deaths from childhood diarrhea.  And family planning commodities are needed to ensure women and their families can decide when or whether to have children – all key factors in maternal and child survival.

Over the past few years, I’ve been working on access to maternal health medicines or commodities. During this time, I’ve learned that the issues related to lack of availability, access, and demand for maternal, newborn, and child health and family planning commodities have many causes, including lack of manufacturers; lack of quality control at many points in the supply chain; providers are unfamiliar with or untrained in newer medicines or equipment; supplies don’t reach the “last mile” to remote health centers; and people don’t know that treatments are available.

But I’ve also learned that these are not insurmountable challenges. Commodities of various types do reach distant and hard-to-reach areas. One often cited example is Coca-Cola, a beverage enjoyed by millions every day, which is both affordable and available even in the most remote villages. You can actually get a Coke in remote Tshikaji, DRC!

And now, we are seeing renewed commitment among donors, country governments, and other stakeholders to make lifesaving health commodities accessible, affordable and available to millions of women, children and families around the world.

Today, the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children released 10 bold recommendations which, if achieved, will ensure women and children will have access to 13 life-saving commodities.

USAID’s long term, strategic vision looks to integrate these life-saving commodities as part of the next steps to other key efforts, like the Child Survival Call to Action and London Summit on Family Planning, in order to increase the speed at which we scale-up in host countries. It is important that we learn from our experiences and successes in getting vaccines and malaria, HIV/AIDS, and family planning commodities into the hands and homes of those most in need. Additionally, we need to integrate systems across commodities to better and more efficiently serve women and children everywhere, and scale up programs to have nation-wide impact.

Country leadership is also a vital component to successfully addressing many of the Commission’s recommendations.  Getting pallets of commodities in warehouses is just one step.  Medicines and drugs must reach people, and health care workers have to be present and skilled to administer them.

With our host country partners in the lead, we are working to strengthen supply chains for commodities, which include use of mHealth solutions; support local market shaping; improve the quality of medicines; and increase demand by mothers for necessary medicines.  This needs to happen if we are to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable women and children have the commodities they need.

These two themes, integration and country ownership, form the cornerstones of our work. My hope is that someday soon, I’ll walk past a market in a remote part of Africa with fully stocked shelves of Coke, and into a health clinic fully stocked with life-saving commodities and medicines.

Working Together to Save Moms & Kids in Afghanistan

A decade ago, Afghanistan’s health system collapsed, leaving crumbling and neglected infrastructure, widespread prevalence of malnutrition, infectious disease, and some of the highest maternal mortality rates the world had ever seen. Over the last decade, the Ministry of Public Health, in a strong partnership with the international community, has made major progress in improving the health of Afghan mothers and children. National programs to improve the quality of, and increase access to, basic health services and essential hospital services, along with programs to increase the number of trained female providers including midwives, and improved community-based healthcare, contributed to these significant achievements.

In Afghanistan, USAID is working with the Government to build capacity in its Ministry of Health, among midwives, and in local hospitals, and have helped to increase health coverage from eight percent to over 60 percent of the people over ten years.  This progress has helped the country realize an incredible drop in infant, child and maternal mortality rates, and the global community move the dial on Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.

Watch Dr. Suraya Dalil, Minister of Public Health in Afghanistan, talk about this incredible milestone.

Designing Smartphones For Resource-Poor Women

Mobile phone use in the developing world is exploding, yet women are at risk of being left behind.   On average, GSMA research shows women to be 21 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone in low- to middle-income countries.  The resulting mobile phone gender gap represents as many as 300 million women in the developing world who do not have access to this potentially life-enhancing tool.

Barriers to mobile phone ownership among resource-poor women include limited technical literacy and limited understanding of the full potential of mobile devices and services.  The GSMA mWomen Program, as part of USAID’s mWomen Global Development Alliance, set out to address this by launching the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge: Redefining the User Experience at the third annual Social Good Summit in New York on Sunday. Through submissions from the global design and developer community, the design challenge seeks to increase access to life enhancing mobile services so that regardless of someone’s skill level, they can pick up a phone and maximize its potential.

The Power of Storytelling

“I have been able to build a cement house with my income and provide for my children and extended family with food, clothes, and school.” Photo Credit: Bita Rodrigues, USAID/Mozambique

Working in international development and public health for more than three decades, I have visited numerous poverty fighting programs in some of the poorest communities in the world. I have listened to the experts. I have heard the daunting statistics, and I have read the reports. Yet time and time again, I have been impressed by the stories of the resilient women and girls I’ve met along the way.

That is why I’m excited that CARE, USAID, the Independent Television Service (ITVS), and the Ford Foundation are launching Women and Girls Lead Global, a unique multi-partner initiative that will bring these deeply compelling stories to tens of millions of people worldwide. From Peru to Egypt to Bangladesh, these documentary films will air in nine countries over three years.  Our goal is to educate and inspire the public to take action on the development challenges and gender inequities that girls and women face.

The idea is simple: A growing number of girls and women are stepping into leadership roles. They are working tirelessly to improve their communities through the arts, sciences, business and government, but their stories are often unheard. This partnership will work with independent filmmakers to amplify the voices of these courageous leaders, whose trailblazing efforts are changing attitudes about what empowered girls and women can accomplish.

We also know that the media can be a powerful tool for stirring public dialogue and helping ordinary people initiate change in their communities. Research has shown that when women are equipped with the right resources, they have the power to lift their families and entire communities out of poverty. Our hope is that both men and women in all nine countries will advocate for more social, economic and political opportunities for girls and women and in the process build more equal, inclusive societies.

I know first-hand that partnerships on the ground can produce impactful and lasting results. That’s why I’m thrilled that CARE has joined such a dynamic and innovative partnership that involves experts from the media, government and civil society.

I encourage you to explore the Women and Girls Lead Global website, where you will find film clips and interactive activities. These girls and women have a story to tell, and with your support, their achievements will start a ripple of change in communities around the world.

Equal Futures Partnership Advances Global Women’s Opportunities

Sarah Mendelson is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Credit: USAID

I am excited to have just returned from the kick-off of the Equal Futures Partnership to expand women’s opportunities around the world. The event was held in New York City and part of a number of events USAID is participating in during the United Nations General Assembly this week.

The world has made significant strides in expanding opportunity for women and girls; in the U.S., we just celebrated 40 years of Title IX, an act of Congress that changed the lives of many in my generation by enabling girls to have equal access to education playing sports. Equal access to sports in schools, particularly, taught many of us how to be fierce competitors and learn valuable lessons in team building.

Yet more work is needed to tackle the global gender inequality. Last week, I met in London with donors on this very topic where researchers discussed a number of startlingly facts:

  • In 2011, women held only 19 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide, while less than five percent of heads of state and government were women.
  • While in the past 25 years, women have increasingly joined the labor market, the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report describes “pervasive and persistent gender differences” in productivity and earnings across sectors and jobs.
  • Though women are 43 percent of the agriculture labor force and undertake many unpaid activities, they own just a tiny fraction of land worldwide.

These realities demand an urgent response.

Building on President Obama’s challenge a year ago at UNGA, the United States government has partnered in a new international effort to break down barriers to women’s political participation and economic empowerment. The goal of the Equal Futures Partnership is to realize women’s human rights by expanding opportunity for women and girls to fully participate in public life and drive inclusive economic growth in our countries.

Through this partnership, the countries of Senegal, Benin, Jordan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Peru, Denmark, Finland, Australia and the European Union are all making new commitments to action, and will consult with national stakeholders inside and outside government, including civil society, multilateral organizations including UN Women and the World Bank, and the private sector, to identify and overcome key barriers to women’s political and economic participation.  This partnership promises to be groundbreaking not only for the countries involved but also for those who are watching its implementation.

USAID and its Center for Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance stands by to provide assistance to these countries as well as many others throughout the world as they work to advance women’s political participation and economic empowerment.

This is thrilling work that helps make the promise of development real for everyone–not just a privileged few.

Designing for Women: The Mobile Challenge

Imagine if you picked up a smartphone and didn’t know how to use it. What must it be like to have such a powerful device in the palm of your hand and not be able to utilize it? For many technically illiterate women in the developing world, navigating a smartphone or even a more basic feature phone is a real challenge.

Based on research performed in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda, as part of the GSMA mWomen Program, we know that on average, resource-poor women are 22% less likely to want a mobile phone because they would not know how to use it.  Yet we also know from other GSMA research that mobile phones afford women critical entrepreneurial opportunities, security, and a greater sense of family connection.

Mobile phone use in the developing world is exploding, yet women are at risk of being left behind, missing out on opportunities and services from education to healthcare.  Making the user experience easier would open up a multitude of possibilities. So what if there was a more intuitive way of navigating your phone?

The GSMA mWomen Program, as part of USAID’s mWomen Global Development Alliance, has set out to do just that by launching the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge: Redefining the User Experience at the third annual Social Good Summit in New York. Through submissions from the global design and developer community, the Design Challenge seeks to increase access to life enhancing mobile services so that regardless of someone’s skill level, they can pick up a phone and maximize its potential.

At the Social Good Summit, USAID, GSMA, AusAID, Qtel Group and the design firm Huge, shared possible approaches to solving this issue, by making the mobile user interface and experience more intuitive.  Mobile phones are a real game changer when it comes to tackling global challenges around the world but if the design does not change, hundreds of millions of women risk being left out in this next mobile revolution.  That is a risk we cannot afford to take.

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